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Wins Put Varsity Cougars In Second Place
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The road has been a pretty friendly place for Escalon's varsity boys basketball team this season and this week, they managed a split of road games. Though they fell at Patterson in a Tuesday, Feb. 1 game, the Cougars rebounded with an overtime win Friday night, spoiling Homecoming for the host Riverbank Bruins.

At Patterson, the varsity fell short in a 63-59 decision.

"They shot really well, they hit the glass and they just outplayed us in the first half," said coach Mike Backovich. "We had a nice comeback, we came back and played well in the second half."

Backovich credited his players with continuing to battle, even when it looked as though they couldn't get back in the contest.

"At one point, we were down by 18," he pointed out.

With some strong defense, though, and a 22-point effort in the fourth quarter, the Cougars came close to grabbing the win. They even set up for a potential game-tying play in the closing seconds.

"We ran a play at the end to draw the foul and one of their players blatantly ran right over Steve (Gentry) but the referees choked on the whistle, they didn't blow the foul," said Backovich, disappointed. "Everything was lined up the way we wanted it to be."

But the non-call allowed the Tigers to keep the Cougars at bay for the final few seconds, taking the win.

Gentry ended the game with 14 points, leading a trio of Cougars in double figures. Marc Backovich put in 11, Andrew Beam chipped in with 10 points.

"We had some very outstanding defensive efforts," added Backovich. "Marc shut down Sergio Juarez, their point guard, he's the one that runs things and we took him away."

Even though the loss was a tough one to swallow, Backovich said the players regrouped and came through with a 58-49 overtime win Friday night at Riverbank, playing before a packed house for the Bruin Homecoming.

"It's never much fun to play at Riverbank and any team coached by Jeff Jennings is going to be tough, he gets the most out of his players," Backovich noted.

The teams were knotted at the break, 26-26, with Escalon taking a 42-37 lead after three periods. Riverbank roared back to tie the game in the final frame, sending it to overtime at 47-47.

"I think it was a combination of missed shots and, when we got up by four or five, we slowed down the pace and tried to milk the clock a little bit," Backovich said of being unable to hold off the hard-charging Bruins in the fourth quarter. "It's also that good defense that Riverbank plays, their in-your-face style forces you into turnovers."

In the extra frame, however, Escalon took advantage of the Riverbank aggressiveness, hitting 9-of-9 free throw attempts.

"We had only one field goal in the overtime, by Steve Gentry, and hit all our free throws," Backovich said. "We were 18-for-21 for the night in free throws and it was a huge win for us."

Gentry paced the team with 23 points, Backovich had 10 and Marcus Savage put in 10, including 6-for-6 from the line.

"Anthony Suniga really gave us the best minutes he's had all season, especially defensively," said the coach. "He did some nice denying and just played very well."

The Cougars improved to 8-2 in league with the split of games, in second place behind Ripon. They are 16-6 overall and are scheduled to travel to Ripon for a key TVL match Friday night.